Jenny McDonald is the new tourism director for the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce. She is sitting next to a publicity cutout from "The Vampire Diaries." (Staff Photo: Crystal Tatum)
COVINGTON — Jenny McDonald has been tourism director for two months and she’s already formulated some big plans.
A new logo for the Hollywood of the South trademark is in the works, featuring the historic courthouse lit by spotlights. McDonald hopes to eventually have a billboard at the Covington I-20 exit with the logo and real lights.
McDonald is looking to capitalize on Covington’s status as Hollywood of the South, but she also wants to promote agritourism and the county’s historic offerings.
“We’re not just focused on Hollywood of the South, but that’s the moneymaker,” she said.
In June, 1,937 visitors from 19 states and six countries came to the Visitors Center, the majority here because of “The Vampire Diaries,” McDonald said. Most take the Mystic Falls tour, eat at Bradley’s Bar-B-Que and Scoops, and shop at Church Street Antiques. The average stay is two nights at local hotels and tourists are staying and shopping and eating at other local businesses as well.
“After they’re done with the tour they’re eating in our restaurants and shopping in our stores. They’re spending their dollars here. They’re not going into Atlanta, they’re not going into surrounding areas,” she said.
McDonald said most people don’t realize Covington’s Hollywood connection began in 1954 when “A Man Called Peter” was filmed here.
“We should take the buzz that’s growing and started with ‘Vampire Diaries’ and expand that across all the films,” she said.
To that end, McDondald would love to see a “Dukes of Hazzard” museum and a tour focused on “In the Heat of the Night.”
“We have uncovered a huge fan base through our social media strategy that still exists for ‘In the Heat of the Night,’” she said, adding that she would love to host a cast reunion in Covington.
“The Vampire Diaries” draws tourists from all over the world, and McDonald is looking for ways to further target the international market. She’s learned that the show has a huge fan base in Brazil, for example, so a spot promoting Covington on the gocovington.com website now has been subtitled in Portuguese.
While “The Vampire Diaries” may draw the younger crowd, their dads are “In the Heat of the Night” fans and some moms are history buffs, and McDonald wants to make sure there’s something for them to do as well. She hopes to get a mobile app so folks can stand outside historic homes and cemeteries and learn about their history.
McDonald is also readying for the Civil War Sesquicentennial by learning local folklore and legend about the war in preparation for events and tours.
Short-term, she’s working on using the website and social media as a marketing tool and finding one main attraction from each tourism market — film, agribusiness and historic heritage — to brand.
She wants to segment the Tourism Advisory Committee and take a small group approach for each market.
McDonald has been on the job for two months and so far, “I love, love, love it,” she said. “I’m able to take my 30 years of ad agency experience and put a different twist and really make a concerted effort to work on branding our products and expanding our product offering.”
A Newton native and graduate of Newton High School, McDonald was previously senior vice president and director of creative services for BKV Advertising Inc. in Atlanta. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from West Georgia College.